The Chicago Bears’ running backs were expected to be the most productive skill position players in 2017 and that’s exactly how it played out. Jordan Howard picked up his second consecutive 1,000-yard season and Tarik Cohen emerged as the team’s best pass-catcher as a rookie. Because Howard and Cohen bring different skills to the table, it will be interesting to see how each will be used under a new head coach, offensive coordinator, and position coach.
There’s also the matter of rounding out the room. The Bears could lose a free agent, putting them in the market for a depth piece via free agency or the draft.
WHO’S UNDER CONTRACT?
Jordan Howard enters the third year of his rookie contract in a better place than he was coming into 2017. Howard made it known he wasn’t a fan of the old regime’s offense and has also made it clear how much he looks forward to playing in Matt Nagy’s new system. After watching Kareem Hunt lead the NFL in rushing as a rookie, how could you blame him?
Calling Tarik Cohen a Joker back wouldn’t do justice to the many hats he wore for the 2017 Bears. Cohen served as Howard’s primary backup, played inside the slot and outside the numbers as a wide receiver, returned punts and kicks, and took snaps as the offense’s Wildcat quarterback. The only thing Cohen didn’t do was chip in as the team’s top throwing-down back or two-minute drill option. Cohen figures to be in for a different kind of experience in Year 2, especially if Nagy sees him as a Tyreek Hill type player. During Super Bowl Week, Darren Sproles – the player most often seems to emulate on Sundays – shared some ideas on how to better use the North Carolina A&T product in 2018.
Taquan Mizzell was one of the Bears’ priority waiver wire additions after the preseason, but played sparingly on offense and special teams. If all breaks right for Mizzell, he’ll be in contention for a roster spot when training camp rolls around.
EXITING FREE AGENTS
It was easy to overlook Benny Cunningham’s role with the Bears. He was the team’s third-down passing back and played a bunch of crunch-time minutes as the team’s two-minute drill backfield option. In both of those roles, Cunningham thrived as a reliable blocker and a safety valve for Mitch Trubisky in a pinch. Cunningham also was a core special teams contributor and tackler.
WHO COULD BE CUT BEFORE THE LEAGUE NEW YEAR BEGINS?
Neither Howard or Cohen is getting cut. Moving on…
HOW CAN THE BEARS ADDRESS/UPGRADE THE POSITION?
I took two mental notes this season during the Bears’ games against the NFC South this season. The first came during the week leading up to the team’s game against the Carolina Panthers, when former head coach John Fox gushed about Christian McCaffrey and revealed the front office’s interest in the player.
The second came during the Bears’ Week 8 game against the New Orleans Saints, where the broadcast team offered up an anecdote via Alvin Kamara, another rookie running back the Bears had their eye on leading up to the 2017 NFL Draft. Kamara told the FOX broadcast crew he thought the Bears were going to draft him because of how much background work they had done to get to know him. Alas, the Saints beat the Bears to the punch and drafted him. Seeing that the Bears would take Cohen later, it’s apparent Pace sees value in having depth and talent at the position.
Pace has drafted a running back in each of his first three drafts, but hasn’t picked one before the fourth round. That trend could continue in 2018. San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny is my favorite late-round potential sleeper back because of his one-cut, down-hill running style, something new Bears Running Backs Coach Charles London is familiar with having coached Arian Foster with the Texans.
If the Bears were to dive into free agency, they could do worse than bringing back Cunningham for a second season.